Regina Vaugn, October 10th, 2016
WW: Hello, today is October 10, 2016. My name is William Winkel. This interview is for the Detroit Historical Society's Detroit '67 Oral History Project. I'm in Detroit, Michigan and I'm sitting down with -
RV: Regina Vaugn.
WW: Thank you so much for sitting down with me today.
RV: You're welcome.
WW: Can you please start by telling me where and when you were born?
RV: I was born in Highland Park, Michigan, November 13, 1948.
WW: Did you grow up in Highland Park?
RV: I grew up in Detroit, Michigan. Highland Park was just the closest hospital, and I wound up being born there.
WW: What neighborhood did you grow up in?
RV: Primarily on the Boston area - Boston-Edison area, on a street called Atkinson and later we moved to what's called the University area on a street called Wisconsin.
WW: Growing up, were those neighborhoods integrated?
RV: Boston-Edison was pretty predominantly black when I lived there and the University was, and I think it still is, pretty much integrated.
WW: What did your parents do for a living?
RV: My mother was an elementary special ed teacher. My dad was a time accountant, and that's all - and he also worked part-time for the school board. Detroit School Board.
WW: Would you like to share any memories of growing up in those neighborhoods?
RV: Well, pretty much it was a stable neighborhood. Probably most of the residents were probably professional - what we would call black middle class - and you know, for instance, the - the publisher for the Michigan Chronicle, which is the black newspaper, lived two doors down from us and the doctor who actually delivered my sister lived a block from us. And that area, back then, was - that's where a lot of the black professionals lived, because I don't think we'd experienced a lot of flight to the suburbs.
WW: Growing up in the Fifties and early Sixties, did you tend to stay in your own neighborhood or did you venture around the city?
RV: I went all over the city.
WW: How did you do that?
RV: Probably my mom and dad took me or I took myself after a while after I learned how to drive.
WW: Growing up during that time, did you sense any growing tension in the city?
RV: Sure didn't. Sure - I mean - okay, what was I? 16, 17 when the riot occurred. I never sensed anything. I thought things were going well, because for one thing, we had a mayor that people pretty much liked. His name was Mayor Cavanagh. And I don't think there was a big problem with unemployment. I didn't sense it myself, but I guess there was something underlying there that I didn't know about.
WW: What schools did you go to?
RV: I went to a school called Angel, I went to a school called Durfee, and then I graduated from a school named Cass Tech, and then I graduated from Michigan State University.
WW: Going into the Sixties, in your late teens, and you're at Cass Tech, right?
RV: Mm hm.
WW: How old were you in '67?
RV: I was probably 19 - I was probably 18 that summer.
WW: So you said even going into that summer, you didn't sense any tension going?
RV: I didn't. Nope. Things seemed to be going well. You know, if you're talking about tension - high unemployment, high crime - no.
WW: Any police/community tension?
RV: Probably - probably - I don't know if we had what they call STRESS then. STRESS was a program - I think we didn't have it. I didn't - because like I said - I think that mayor, who we had then was pretty much well-liked, and there was full - as far as I knew, there was full employment, because when I was - you know, I had a job. My brother had a job - he was just 15, you know. No problem.
WW: Where were you living then? Were you still living in the University district?
RV: When the riot occurred?
RV: No. We were living - okay, I'll tell you where we were living. We were living on a street called Atkinson. That's in the Boston-Edison area. It's a block from Edison, okay. If I could draw you a map - this is Atkinson, okay. The riot occurred on a street called Clairmount. And it used to be called Twelfth Street, but it's now called Rosa Parks. Okay. The riot occurred here - we were right across the street. Excuse me, right around the block from where the riot occurred.
WW: How did you first hear what was going on? Or how did you first see what was going on?
RV: Okay. Well, we - I think we were all home, and it was a time when I brother and I used to have parties, because our parents - you know, they were sort of skeptical about it, but we'd have our friends over, because we had a huge finished basement. And kids liked to come over there. And I remember my mother thought that somebody was giving a really wild party down the street. Because we just saw cars, and a lot of noise, and we didn't learn until - later we saw people were actually, at some point in time, they were using our yard to come across, because they, you know, had looted some items from some of the places.
And then my brother worked at a place called Perry's Photographer. And Perry was - he did most of the photography for high school grads. My brother worked there, and Mr. Perry's store had gotten broken into. It was on Twelfth Street, Rosa Parks. And he called my brother and asked, could he store some of his stuff over in our basement. And so my mom and dad consented to that, and then we knew it was a full riot.
WW: Did he successfully get his equipment into your basement?
RV: Yeah. He did. Yep.
WW: So what was it like on that first Sunday, seeing everything - people coming through your yard, people looting?
RV: It was something that I had never seen before. And then we could see, actually look out and see Twelfth Street burning down. And that was the street where we had just a lot of thriving businesses. We had grocery stores, we had like places to go to - you know, like, they call it - I don't know what they call it - you could order pop and sodas and stuff.
WW: Soda fountains?
RV: Yeah. We had those. Barber shops, beauty shops, I think restaurants. Stuff like that. And it was all burning.
WW: Do you remember how your parents were reacting to it?
RV: They were terrified. Of course. They were terrified. It was shortly after that, that they - we all moved, of course. I mean, after everything died down. Not during the riot. They were terrified. They didn't know what was going on. My dad, for some reason, continued to go to work. And National Guard was going all around the neighborhood and he continued going to work and he was stopped. Because, I guess, perhaps there was a curfew of some kind in effect - but he was just a hard-working guy who had to support his family so he just kept going and he would get stopped.
And I guess, looking back on that, he probably was endangering his life. Because the National Guard, they were just young. There were like 18, 19, 20 years old. And they were scared too, you know. So, yep.
WW: How did you feel about hearing that the National Guard were coming in?
RV: You know, I don't remember how I felt. I just know that, you know, it was a time when - we were experiencing, you know - what we thought was a riot and we just didn't want our place to burn down, and we just wanted it to stop. I don't know if I felt good about National Guard coming into our neighborhood but I just wanted it to stop. So it did stop.
WW: Was your house threatened by fire during that week?
RV: No. No. I think some residential property on Clairmount, or maybe further down there, Clairmount, Hazelwood, like that but none of ours were. Mostly single-family dwellings, and they were not - none that I know of.
WW: Did you or your brother or your parents ever go out to see what was going on first-hand?
RV: My brother did, and I, well, I think I went out with my brother just to see, briefly, what was going on. My dad, of course, he was - it was business as usual for him, you know.
WW: Do you remember any stories from him, or you going out to see what was going on?
RV: Well, he just said that people were - you know, just – that the grocery store near our house, they were taking a lot of stuff from the grocery store, and my guess from - and then there was another shoe store, it was called Cancellation Shoe Store, and he said they were, you know, looting, pretty much in all the areas.
WW: Did seeing the fire, seeing the looting and the violence firsthand did that change the way you looked at the city?
RV: Trying to think. Let me think back. Probably, it changed the way I looked at the area where I lived because it was so close to where I lived, but, you know, when my parents started looking for other places for their family, they didn't look outside the city. They just looked in northwest Detroit. So I don't think that - you mean, was I fearful?
WW: Mm hm.
WW: Did you become uncomfortable moving around the city afterwards?
RV: No. No. I never was.
WW: You've called it a riot a couple times now. How do you interpret what happened in '67? Do you see it as a riot? Do you see it as a rebellion? Uprising?
RV: I probably - I probably see it as a - I don't know how I see it because what happened was that the areas that were burned and destroyed were areas where we lived and areas where we shopped and areas where we lived. I don't know if you call that a riot. If we had gone out to Grosse - if people had gone out to Grosse Pointe and done something, maybe that would be a riot, but I don't know how you - I don't know how you define "riot" vs. "rebellion" vs. "uprising," you know. I don't know which of those it might be classified under.
WW: Do you think the shadow of '67 still hangs over the metro area?
RV: Nah. No. Most people don't even know! You know, I have - my kids - what are they now, they're like in their thirties, you know, and nobody talks about it. And I don't think I shared any experiences that we had, you know. They don't know unless they're really involved in history, or they know the history of the city, or they know anything about history during that time - during the late Sixties, where they had uprisings all over the country. But they don't - a lot of kids are not really historians, so they don't know.
WW: How do you feel about the state of the city today?
RV: I think right now that the state of the city is improving, and I think that we're going another direction, that we had hit probably, maybe bottom, rock bottom, and we're starting to get better.
WW: So you're optimistic for the city moving forward?
RV: Sure. I really think so. Yeah. Look outside.
WW: Is there anything else you'd like to share today? Either from '67 or for the city today?
RV: I can't think of anything about - '67, what I'm - probably if I sat down and really racked my brain, or maybe talked with my, you know, people who were around there, I could probably come up with some more, but just offhand, I can't think of too much more. You know, it was - and you know, a lot of what I'm saying, probably is coming from after, you know. Doing some reading, you know, there are several books that I read - required reading, as a matter of fact, when I went to school. Years of doing that. I don't know if I'm mixing up those memories, or my assessment with what I read, okay.
WW: Thank you so much for sitting down with me today. I greatly appreciate it.
RV: You're welcome.